Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library

Ecopopulism: Toxic Waste and the Movement for Environmental Justice

Andrew Szasz
Volume: 1
Copyright Date: 1994
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 232
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This book reconstructs the growth of a powerful movement around the question of toxic waste, following the issue as it moves from the world of "official" policymaking in Washington, onto the nation's television screens and into popular consciousness, and then into America's neighborhoods, spurring the formation of thousands of local, community-based groups. Szasz shows how, in less than a decade, a rich infrastructure of more permanent social organizations emerged from this movement, expanding its focus to include issues like municipal waste, military toxics, and pesticides. In its success, Szasz suggests, this movement may even prove to be the vehicle for reinvigorating progressive politics in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8477-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction: Environmental Crisis and the Search for a Politics That Works
    (pp. 1-8)

    Every day, through every news source, we are increasingly made aware of a complex and pervasive environmental crisis. In 1989 alone the American public saw and heard the following environmental stories on the television networks’ nightly newscasts:¹

    Oil production and consumption: TheExxon Valdezoil spill, by itself, guaranteed that the pollution effects of oil would be the biggest environmental story of the year. I start with this, too, because oil lies at the very heart of the economy and the fabric of everyday life. At the production end, the news reported one oil rig on fire, explosion and fire...

  5. Part I. Policy; Icon; Social Movement:: Hazardous Waste in Three Arenas of Political Action

    • Chapter 2 Routine Regulatory Failure: The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976
      (pp. 11-37)

      Modern industrial production generates copious quantities of toxic by-products. In 1989, for example, American companies reported to the EPA that they had released 5.7 billion pounds of 325 highly toxic substances into the environment. That same year, the American Chemical Society reported that the nation’s firms had generated somewhere between 580 million and 2.9 billiontonsof hazardous wastes.¹

      As late as the mid-1970s, the disposal of these often highly toxic materials was almost totally unregulated. Federal clean air and water statutes provided some “authority over the incineration, and water and ocean disposal of certain hazardous wastes”; fourteen other laws...

    • Chapter 3 “Toxic Waste” as Icon: A New Mass Issue Is Born
      (pp. 38-68)

      The nation now had a law that, on paper, created a comprehensive system for the safe disposal of industrial wastes. However, exactly because hazardous waste had not yet become a significant social issue, government officials neglected that new law. Had nothing else intervened, we would most likely have witnessed an uneventful, entirely mundane story of continuing regulatory failure. At most, there would have been routine struggles over details, prodded sporadically, perhaps, by60 Minutesor a critical public television documentary.

      Something else did happen. Localized protest concerning environmental threats had been occurring, here and there, for a decade. Until 1978...

    • Chapter 4 The Toxics Movement: From NIMBYism to Radical Environmental Populism
      (pp. 69-100)

      In a society where episodic attention is the norm, issue importance can evaporate as quickly as it forms, and nothing guarantees that attitudes generated in an iconogenic moment will have staying power. Media-centered political communication produces a flash of worry, but, unless the problem being described connects with some genuine, immediate interest, it will be experienced as “important, butnot here.” Concern about it, willingness even to think about it, much less significantly change one’s daily activities to do something about it, fades as soon as the media move on to other things.

      In the case of hazardous waste, however,...

  6. Part II. Reactions

    • Chapter 5 Could Opposition Be Neutralized? Discourses and Policies of Disempowerment
      (pp. 103-115)

      Industry and government officials, both, found grass-roots toxics activism, especially siting opposition, deeply disturbing. For industry, siting opposition threatened to create a disposal capacity shortage that would drive up their costs. For officials, local organizing threatened their administrative control over policy implementation. It would be far better, they agreed, if they found a way to secure communities’ consent or, at least, their acquiescence.

      Their concern gave impetus to an extensive, sometimes rather desperate-sounding, discourse: Could they find ways to contain and neutralize this troublesome exercise of direct popular power? Policy scientists dissected the causes of local opposition. They proposed a...

    • Chapter 6 Hazardous Waste Regulation Progresses against the Conservative Tide
      (pp. 116-134)

      The political system had two very different reactions to icon and social movement. On the one hand, the officials who were charged with administering the hazardous waste statutes wanted to insulate themselves from the effects of the movement. As we saw in chapter 5, they applied themselves to the search for strategies that would neutralize what they saw as disruptive intrusions from below. At the same time, however, lawmakers felt compelled to respond to citizens’ profound fear of toxic waste, their desire to be protected from it.

      To get a sense of the strength of this latter reaction, one has...

  7. Part III. Results

    • Chapter 7 Fifteen Years of Hazardous Waste Legislation: Summing Up the Policy Impacts
      (pp. 137-149)

      All attempts to make the hazardous waste movement go away, to neutralize or coopt it, had failed. “Toxic waste” continued to evoke feelings of dread. Recognition of the issue’s continued importance and the movement’s undiminished power gave Congress the will to defy the tenor of the times and strengthen both RCRA and Superfund.

      What do legislative accomplishments mean, however, when laws are chronically underimplemented? The two hazardous waste laws have never been anywhere near fully implemented. Their history appears once again to confirm everything that social scientists have said about regulatory failure.

      I wish to argue here that the traditional...

    • Chapter 8 Broader Political Implications? Environmental Populism and the Reconstitution of Progressive Politics
      (pp. 150-161)

      The toxics movement produced historically significant innovations in both environmental politics and environmental policy. It achieved an original and innovative synthesis of environmentalism and populism (chapter 4); it was pivotal in the turn toward source reduction (chapter 7). Important as these accomplishments are, I would like to suggest that this movement may yet prove to have political effects that go even further, that transcend the boundaries of its original, single issue.

      The movement’s ideological development did not stop when it got to radical environmental populism. Its leading organizations have gone on to articulate a much broader social justice perspective that...

    • Chapter 9 Concluding Remarks
      (pp. 162-166)

      Sociologists, unlike our colleagues the historians, tend not to feel that our work is done when we have composed and presented a concrete, distinctive narrative; typically, we cannot rest until we have wrested some more abstract, generalizable points from that narrative. In that spirit, I wish, first, to briefly indicate what are some more general methodological, conceptual, and political lessons that we may draw from the history I have presented in this work.

      Studies in environmental sociology or political sociology tend to privilege one or another individual zone of society’s total field of political practices, be that people’s perceptions (media...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 167-194)
  9. References
    (pp. 195-212)
  10. Index
    (pp. 213-216)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 217-217)